Spend less and save more – a book review of “the hard times guide to retirement security” by Mark Miller

Real  estate shows on the Home and Garden Network drive me nuts.  You know the shows – a first time home buyer viewing a series of starter homes, or someone trying to find a buyer for the McMansion that they now need to sell.  I always want to know when the segment was filmed.  Is this person buying a house before the real estate bubble burst, during the meltdown, or just after? Of course the network wants to rerun the shows for years so they don’t identify the date.  But how can we tell if the strategy being suggested by the helpful agent makes sense now?   I sometimes feel the same way reading retirement advice books.   Are they writing for a time that is past?  Does this advice still make sense after the Great Recession?

Mark Miller’s book, the hard times guide to retirement security: practical strategies for money, work, and living was published in 2010 and uses its 209 pages to answer questions about what we should do now.  He focuses a lot on working longer, spending less, and saving more.  That part, I could have figured out on my own.  Is there anyone out there who hasn’t figured out that if your retirement savings have taken a big hit, you should adjust your spending and withdraw less than you had planned until your savings recover? 

Working longer if possible seems equally as obvious,  but Miller explains how working a couple of extra years gives a double result.  You will continue to earn and contribute to retirement accounts for those extra years and you won’t be drawing on your savings.  To his credit, he recognizes the difficulties that some older workers may have keeping their jobs and getting hired in a tight job market.  He provides some simple ideas to help improve your chances of getting an interview, and hopefully a job.  Another suggestion is to start a lifestyle business, essentially a small solo business that will bring in some income but be more flexible than most jobs.  

The chapter on income annuities was helpful.  In many ways, an income annuity is a self financed defined benefit pension.  You give the insurance company a hunk of your savings and the annuity provides a regular income that can be counted on until death.  There are all kinds of annuities, some of which are totally inappropriate for this purpose.  It can get confusing.  Miller’s chapter was a good introduction, clearly explaining the basics and how to avoid some of the risks, like a company that doesn’t survive as long as you do.  I still don’t know if it is right for me but this chapter helped me to understand the issues.

This is a breezy little book that touches on quite a few topics, some in more depth than others. It is easy to read, reflecting Miller’s many years writing about aging and retirement issues.  Some of the more timely chapters are “Coping with Post-Bubble Real Estate” and “Resuscitating the 401(k)”.  You’ll get a good introduction to any of the topics covered.  He has a section on lifestyle issues and great web links as well as lists of other publications for more in-depth information.  Miller also publishes an extensive web site on retirement issues, RetirementRevised.com .

You may not keep this book on your shelf for years but it provides a nice overview of the retirement issues of our time.  I’d definitely recommend reading a copy from the library and then buying one if you think it fills your needs.

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